The National Assembly of Bhutan on Feb. 5 passed a right to information bill, putting Bhutan on the path to becoming the 100th nation in the world with an RTI law.
The bill was debated for several days, according to a BBS report that also includes a video clip about the deliberations. The bill goes to the National Council, the upper house, for approval, which is expected.
Particularly controversial, the BBS report says, was Chapter 5 of the Right to Information Bill, concerning exemptions from disclosure of information. “A few of the MPs argued the eight sub-sections would make it difficult for citizens to access information through RTI,” BBS reported, “But there were others who argued that all the sections were important to disclose information without hurdles.”
Some members argued that provisions from the Constitution would provide enough protections and were not required, but the prevailing view was to keep the sub-sections.
The MPs also decided against requiring those requesting information to state a reason for doing so.
Of the 40 members present, 32 voted of it, four abstained, while another four voted against the bill (final text not available).
Recent Spurt to 100
A law in Bhutan brings to 100 the number of countries with freedom of information regimes. (See list of countries with access laws.)
A recent spurt has seen four other new laws pass since October: in the Maldives (see Freedominfo.org report), Côte d’ Ivoire (Ivory Coast) (see FreedomInfo.org report), Spain (FreedomInfo.org report) and Sierra Leone (see FreedomInfo.org report).
In October 2012, experts concurred that there were then 93 countries with FOI regimes. (See FreedomInfo,org report.)
Minister Praises Law
Minister of Information and Communications Lynpo D N Dhungyel said the RTI Act would benefit the country’s governance system with better transparency and help curb corruption, according to an article in Outlook India.
Tashi thanked the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Bhutan Foundation, and International Republican Institute for supporting the launch of the Bhutan Development Forum – whose very first event was a panel discussion on the Right to Information Bill held Jan. 17.
North Thimpu’s representative Kinga Tshering said although he appreciated the efforts the legislative committee put in to come up with recommendations, he was dissatisfied the bill was passed. “Only about 50 per cent of committee’s recommendations were accepted by the house,” he said.
Another Member of Parliament Drujegang Tsheza likened the law, at this stage, to a child and said it was unreasonable of members to express their concerns over possibilities of the child falling down when it had barely stood up. “This is a landmark achievement for our country’s policymakers, citizens and organizations like QED who have all contributed to the national conversation on the RTI Bill from its very early origins,” said Jamyang Tashi of the QED Group, an independent think tank that supported the bill.
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